Qandeel Baloch: Leading a Social Revolution in Pakistan?
By Riaz Haq
Could Qandeel Baloch, also known as Pakistan's Kim Kardashian, even be imagined in conservative Pakistan just a few years ago? Doesn't the fact that she existed is in itself a sign of a social revolution sweeping Pakistan today?
Tragic honor killing of Pakistani social media phenomenon Qandeel Baloch by her own brother in the city of Multan in the highly conservative Seraiki region has received global media coverage. It's being offered as yet another example to support their convenient narrative of unspeakable brutality against women in Muslim Pakistan.
What is missing from the news reports, op-ed pieces and editorials about these incidents, however, is serious research and analysis to answer the following:
a. Why are such events happening with increasing frequency?
b. Is it because Pakistanis' sense of "honor" has suddenly become more acute?
c. Or, is it because Pakistani girls are defying old traditions in much larger numbers than ever before?
Going by Karachi-based architect and sociologist Arif Hasan's insight into Pakistani society, the answer is c. As he said in a 2015 interview with The News , "Media projects a lot of injustices against women, but they do not project the changes taking place, nor are they projecting the role models who are challenging these traditional barriers. Role models, too, are just individual cases, like Malala."
What is the enabling environment for these social changes?
There are a number of enabling factors ranging from increasing rural-to-urban migration to greater access to education and technology and growing opportunities for communication and self-expression via the new social media like Facebook. Here are a few them:
1. Pakistani women and girls in rural areas and small towns are better educated than before. Since 2000, over twenty universities have been established in small towns of Pakistan where men and women from small towns and villages are enrolling and graduating.
2. Young men and women are questioning conservative traditional values with a rapidly growing access to television, cell phones and social media.
3. Nearly a quarter of Pakistani females over the age of 10 now work , up from 14 percent a decade ago, according to government data. Women now hold 78 of the 342 seats in the National Assembly. Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms .
4. Court marriages that were rare just a decade ago have increased dramatically. Girls and boys are defying their parents by rejecting arranged marriages.
Causes of violence against women
Whether it was the bloody Civil War to abolish slavery in America or the Meiji Restoration that transformed feudal Japan into an industrial giant, history tells us that violent conflict has been an integral part of the process of social change. Pakistan, too, is experiencing a similar violent social revolution . It started well before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It has only intensified after these events.
The " peace of the dead" has ended with the continuing "eclipse of feudalism" in Pakistan. A significant part of what the world media, politicians and pundits call terrorism is in fact an "unplanned revolution" in the words of a Pakistani sociologist, a revolution that could transform Pakistani society for the better in the long run.
Violence is being used by the defenders of a range of old feudal and tribal values in Pakistan. Some of the traditionalists are fighting to keep girls at home and out of schools and workplaces while others are insisting on continuing traditional arranged and sometimes forced marriages within their clans. Such violence is being met with brave defiance, particularly by the younger generation.
Sociologist Arif Hasan's insights
Media coverage of the attempt on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yosufzai's life by the Taliban has brought attention to what the tribal traditionalists see as a serious threat to their old feudal-tribal ways. In an October 2012 speech at a social scientists conference in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, Arif Hasan recalled what a village elder in Sindh told him about the reasons for the increase in honor killings. He said: “The young people, they’ve gone to the city, and they’ve done all the wrong things. The girls have learned how to read and write, they’ve gone to school, some of them have gone to university as well. They have no morals left, so this is bound to happen.”
When Hasan asked the village elder as to when will the honor killings stop, he replied: “The honor killings will stop when everyone becomes shameless, then they will end.” Then he added, “But I hope that I die before that day.” Hasan says, "He was a man of the old, feudal rural culture, with its own pattern of behavior and way of thinking. He was part of it, and it was dying, so he wished to die with it."
There was a news story recently about young Pakistanis engaging in Internet dating and marriages. In 1992, the applications for court marriages in Karachi numbered about 10 or 15, mainly applications from couples who were seeking the protection of the court for wedlock without familial consent, according to Arif Hasan. By 2006, the number rose to more than 250 applications for court marriages per day in Karachi. Significantly, more than half of the couples seeking court recognition of their betrothal came from rural areas of Sindh. This is yet another indication of how the entire feudal system and its values are in rapid collapse.
Rapid urbanization , rising economic mobility , and media and telecom revolutions have been the key contributors to the process of social change in the country. New York Times' Sabrina Tavernise described the rise of Pakistan's middle class in a story from Pakistani town of Muzaffargarh in the following words:
“For years, feudal lords reigned supreme, serving as the police, the judge and the political leader. Plantations had jails, and political seats were practically owned by families.
“Instead of midwifing democracy, these aristocrats obstructed it, ignoring the needs of rural Pakistanis, half of whom are still landless and desperately poor more than 60 years after Pakistan became a state.
“But changes began to erode the aristocrats’ power. Cities sprouted, with jobs in construction and industry. Large-scale farms eclipsed old-fashioned plantations. Vast hereditary lands splintered among generations of sons, and many aristocratic families left the country for cities, living beyond their means off sales of their remaining lands. Mobile labor has also reduced dependence on aristocratic families.
“In Punjab, the country’s most populous province, and its most economically advanced, the number of national lawmakers from feudal families shrank to 25 percent in 2008 from 42 percent in 1970, according to a count conducted by Mubashir Hassan, a former finance minister, and The New York Times.
“Feudals are a dying breed,” said S. Akbar Zaidi, a Karachi-based fellow with the Carnegie Foundation. “They have no power outside the walls of their castles.”
As early as 1998 when the last census was held, researcher Reza Ali found that Pakistan was almost half urban and half rural , using a more useful definitions of ‘urban’, and not the outdated definition of the Census Organization which excludes the huge informal settlements in the peri-urban areas of the cities which are very often not part of the metropolitan areas.
A 2012 study of 22 nations conducted by Prof Miles Corak for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found that upward economic mobility to be greater in Pakistan than the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, China and five other countries. The study's findings were presented by the author in testimony to the US Senate Finance Committee on July 6, 2012.
Pakistan's media and telecom revolution that began during the Musharaf years is continuing unabated. In addition to financial services , the two key service sectors with explosive growth in last decade (1999-2009) in Pakistan include media and telecom, both of which have helped create jobs and empowered women. The current media revolution sweeping the nation began ten years ago when Pakistan had just one television channel, according to the UK's Prospect Magazine . Today it has over 100. Pakistan is among the five most dynamic economies of developing Asia in terms of increased penetration of mobile phones, internet and broadband, according to the Information Economy Report , 2009 published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad). Among the five countries in terms of mobile penetration in South Asia, Pakistan is placed at number three followed by Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Iran and Maldives are ranked above Pakistan.
Here's how Arif Hasan concluded his Kathmandu speech:
“Pakistani society continues in its state of flux, and the Afghan war has escalated this. The normal evolution of society has been stopped by the militancy in Pakistan linked to the war in Afghanistan. If you remove these militants – which you won’t, by the way – then a whole new world emerges in Pakistan, a transformation in a society trying to define itself. The recent shooting of Malala Yusufzhai has shown what Pakistani society really feels and how it thinks on issues. For the first time the Pakistani establishment – the army as well as the three major political parties – have all condemned the Taliban for the shooting. The people have spoken in huge rallies, in Karachi and elsewhere. Earlier, this never happened because people were scared of being shot, kidnapped, and having bombs thrown at them. This is the first time that there has been such a huge public outpouring.
“But even as people find a voice, we do need the inculcation of new societal values. The problem is, how do you promote these values and through whom? It is too much to ask media, and academia is busy in consultancies for the donor institutions. The literature is all about the struggle between fundamentalism and liberalism, but that is not where the problem lies. The challenge is for Pakistani society to consolidate itself in the post-feudal era. The society has freed itself from the shackles of feudalism, but our values still remain very much the same. There are very big changes that are taking place – how do you support them, how do you institutionalize them, how do you give the people a voice? I leave you with these questions, rather than try and provide the answers.”